The video shows a woman covered from head to toe in traditional Khmer fabrics removes layer upon layer of cloth, finally unveiling her true identity wearing modern clothing and make-up, with a soundtrack that reflects the boundaries between the two worlds that is a mixture of both modern and traditional sounds.
“This video demonstrates the power of artistic activism. A simple gesture accompanied by a radical message. Women have been suffocating under the pressure of tradition since the dawn of time. Adapting to the modern age by keeping knowledge of our roots is necessary to move forward as a nation and as a civilisation,” French-Cambodian artist Adana Mam-Legros explains to The Post.
The short but powerful video was made as part of the I’ll Show You Who I Am campaign, with an exhibition held September 17-19 at FT Gallery in the Factory Phnom Penh.
The video is meant to highlight the pressures that women face from traditional culture in Cambodia in order to point to opportunities to overcome them and was created to launch Generation C’s campaign for women’s rights in Cambodia.
The campaign is part of the project “Voices for Gender Equality” sponsored by the EU and DanChurchAid or Danish Church Aid (DCA), an NGO founded by the Danish national Lutheran church.
“After receiving a grant from DCA to launch a women’s rights campaign we were looking to incorporate art to make a powerful and provocative statement. We were inspired by the Letty Cottin Pogrebin quote ‘when men are oppressed it’s a tragedy, when women are oppressed it’s tradition,” Adana explains.
The co-founder and president of Generation C Cambodia, Adana curated and contributed to the mixed-media exhibition composed of seven water-colour paintings by Daneth, four digital artworks by Phailin, three photographs by Gisel Studio and three videos from the campaign along with a poem written and performed by a Khmer woman.
“This project grew around the idea of showing the invisible pressure women face in their daily lives and the person they are behind all the stigma and pressure,” the artist and activist says.
Generation C – a non-profit organisation Adana co-founded in 2020 – promotes the development of a socially driven artistic movement with the goals of increasing the amount of empathy in society and people’s emotional intelligence with a further emphasis on ethics and social responsibility.
One of Generation C’s objectives is to encourage a shift away from consumerism and towards social awareness as engaged citizens using the power of artistic activism.
Generation C’s exhibition at FT gallery was done in collaboration with Gisel Studio – a creative studio based in Phnom Penh that creates conceptual visuals using photography, video and interactive design.
The exhibition featured two new artists: Phailin Cadiot and Ma Daneth, Cambodian women who shared their struggles and dreams in a discussion following a screening of the video that also included three other notable Cambodian women: Kesorrr, Tharoth Sam and Belle.
“There are many incredible female figures in Cambodia. We wanted to choose [participants] not only according to their background but what they represent in Cambodia. Talking about the pressure of tradition we wanted to look for women who broke the traditional codes and boundaries of our society, women who went beyond the limits of tradition and culture,” Adana says.
Lomorkesor Rithy – known professionally as Kesorrr – is a Cambodian singer, songwriter, and entrepreneur with short hair and a rock and roll look. She is the co-founder of Plerng Kob (Campfire) and also the creative director of Bonn Phum (Village Festival).
Chumvan Sodhachivy – also known as Belle – is the founder of Silver Bell Dance, a group of performance artists. She is a professional dancer, choreographer and teacher who mixes contemporary dance and traditional Khmer dance in her workshops and performances with the goal of “enabling tradition to evolve.”
Tharoth Sam is a female fighter in Cambodian MMA (mixed martial arts) who uses a blend of traditional Bokator and modern MMA techniques. Her career as an actress is also advancing rapidly and her latest appearance was with internationally-known singer and actress Jennifer Lopez.
Adana says that traditionally Khmer women are forbidden from doing men’s work or engaging in activities seen as masculine such as fighting, so to her Tharoth was an important person to include in the campaign as an example of someone who is really pushing beyond the boundaries and limitations placed on women by traditional gender roles.
“This exhibition is to showcase the women’s rights campaign but it is also meant to reveal the talents of female artists in Cambodia. We are using this opportunity to shine a spotlight on Phailin Cadiot and Ma R. Daneth – two self-taught artists who never got the chance to have their own show. Neither of them ever went to art school but their passion for art shines brightly in their work,” says Adana.
Daneth’s work focuses on the beauty of Khmer culture and her artwork is graceful and meant to be a reminder of the peacefulness people can find within themselves.
Phailin is a young French-Thai artist who shares her personal stories about going through depression in order to push people to engage in introspection about their own lives and raise awareness about mental health.
“People should know, not everyone is living a life full of ice cream and rainbows,” Phailin says.
A percentage of the sales of the artworks at the exhibition will go to benefit three local NGOs: Raksa Koma Foundation (RKF), Samakithoar and Happy Chandara.
Samakithoar is a Generation C offshoot aimed at distributing food and meals to those in need and to help re-center Buddhist philosophy and values in Cambodian society through the implementation of “solidarity restaurants” in pagodas.
RKF is a non-profit organisation founded by Serey Chea – director of the National Bank of Cambodia – with the mission to empower underprivileged Cambodians by providing them with opportunities to create better futures for themselves and their communities.
Happy Chandara School was founded 12 years ago by the French NGO Toutes à l’école and is committed to the promotion of quality education for women in Cambodia by providing free schooling to disadvantaged girls.
“I want to put emphasis on basic human values such as the act of sharing, the importance of compassion and most importantly the art of living together or convivialism,” Adana says.
For more information on Generation C: https://www.generationccambodia.com/